Images of partially assembled iPhone hardware, perhaps from the upcoming phone for 2012, have arrived on the web courtesy of the Chinese site Apple Pro...and they contain an intriguing new chip. It's situated on the top of the phone, next to the repositioned front-facing camera and proximity sensor, and it's very roughly the same size as a chip from NXP that's used in peer devices to add NFC wireless capabilities.
While the chip details themselves are hidden by a metal screen, its size and positioning, along with the fact that it's a previously unseen article on the iPhone motherboard, seem to be consistent with an NFC implementation. Apple is planning to release its Passbook app alongside iOS6 this Fall, which acts as a digital wallet for nonpayment cards...and it has also flirted with NFC tech in the form of a long list of patents for a considerable period of time. Previous iPhones were rumored to contain NFC, but Apple is known to be wary of adopting technology like this without the ability to effect sweeping changes in a market. Other smartphones, notably the Galaxy Nexus from Google--supporting its Google Wallet payment protocol--do sport NFC, and there is a fast-developing battle for control of the market going on.
Everyone from phone networks to credit card companies to existing payment processing companies are fighting to gain ground in the battle for wireless payments. It's arguable that perhaps only a manufacturer like Apple--which has a small product lineup and thus tight control over the capabilities of its devices and the tricks they give their users--can sell tens of millions of units globally and cut through the messy competition to quickly establish a de facto standard. We've long suspected Apple's iTunes pay channel is a secret sauce the company has yet to make the most of, because with over 400 million registered credit cards it's already one of the biggest such databases in the world.
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